Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Every Family Has One
When I was born, my mother's father was already approaching his 80's. Grandpa was born in 1886 and lived a very, um...interesting life. I was 18 when he died at the age of nearly 95. He had outlived all his friends, four of five children, and eight of nine wives...yes, I said eight of nine! My granny, my mother's mother, was the only one left when he died and she had divorced him some 30 years earlier!
Grandpa was born in Kentucky and was given the name Jonathon at birth. I think Jonathon is a very respectable name don't you? Well apparently Grandpa didn't like being called Jon and at the age of 18 changed his first name legally to...Ulysses Simpson Grant. From that day forward he was know as either Sally to his friends (how that is an improvement over Jon is beyond me) or USG to his business associates.
As I alluded above...Grandpa liked woman or at the very least, being married. He was indeed legally married nine times. My Granny came in the line-up seventh I think. He fathered two children with her: a son and my mother. Somewhere else there were three more daughters. I knew one: my Aunt Iggy (Virginia).
Of course, you can't have nine marriages without having a scandal. It was rumored that Grandpa committed bigamy. Details are sketchy but it goes something like this: He was married and keeping house here in the Midwest when he decided to take an extended trip west (alone). While traveling he took a fancy to another woman, set up housekeeping and married her. Fortunately, for him she died and he traveled back here and picked right back up with wife #1 like nothing happened.
While his personal life was fraught with drama he was a very talented man. He was a wonderful photographer but not much of a business man. He made and lost millions several times over. Grandpa's specialty was portrait photography. He worked with Kodak in the early development of color film. He is the founder of the Professional Photographers of Ohio. To this day there is an award given in his name to a photographer at the annual convention.
His last commissioned work was the official portrait of Ohio Governor John Brown who served for only 11 days. It still hangs somewhere in the Ohio Statehouse. I did not know about this photo until I came across a old newspaper clipping while going through a box of grandpa's old photos. In fact, there is so much I don't know about this man. And now there is no one to ask.
I regret this. I regret letting this man slip through my life. Imagine what he might have told me. Consider the era in which he lived. The 1800's through the 1980's. He saw man invent the automobile, planes fly, men not just land on the moon, but walk on it. And what about the technology that impacted his trade? What did he see there? It must have blown his mind.
I cherish what I have of him...boxes of his old photos and slides. Beautiful images of my mother and grandmother he took. It is amazing to see the resemblance of my youngest to my grandmother...eerie at times. He dabbled in hand colorization...the photos are magnificent.
At times I feel saddened when I look at the photo of the dashing man I never really knew...but then I look into the images he left behind, I imagine him behind the lens, I imagine what he saw and I feel like I am looking through his eyes...the eyes of a photographer. It is a gift, that eye, and there is no doubt he had it.
I can only hope a little of that was passed down to me. My grandfather...I aspire to make him proud.